A city entrenched in European tradition with strong French and Italian influences, Montreal has seen a specialty coffee boom with new roasters and cafes in recent years, building on the city’s international reputation as a culinary destination.
If there’s any one event that reflects this coffee boom time in Montreal, it’s East Coast Coffee Madness (ECCM), which last month brought together coffee leaders from throughout the world to celebrate the city’s coffee culture while envisioning coffee’s future.
The event first launched in 2015 the roastery of Kittel Coffee’s (Kittel Atelier de café) in one of Montreal’s industrial neighborhoods. It was nothing glamorous — just a group of 100 coffee enthusiasts gathered to listen to talks on things like coffee science, water quality, and optimal total dissolved solids (TDS) ratios.
Year two saw big organizational changes plus a move to a much larger venue to accommodate more international coffee leaders and food scientists. Yet fundamentally, it remained an opportunity for members of the coffee community to come together and learn, discover new products, and build friendly and business connections around workshops and speakers. Multiple brew bars and espresso stations are hosted by established and up-and-coming specialty coffee roasters to show off the city’s best.
This year’s edition of the East Coast Coffee Madness was a one-day event, built for the coffee community around the vision “Meet + Learn + Grow.” There was an even larger brew bar and more espresso stations featuring many local roasters and major equipment manufacturers. Simultaneously, hundreds of participants gathered in the lecture hall to absorb information from a distinguished panel of speakers.
This year’s lineup of speakers took a broader view of coffee, with an emphasis on quality, social development in the supply chain, and coffee sourcing and product development. Speakers included 2018 World Barista Championships finalist and 2018 New Zealand Barista Champion John Gordon; the founder and strategic director of the Partnership for Gender Equity, Kimberly Easson; and vice president of coffee at Colectivo Coffee, Al Liu.
A panel discussion featuring Adam Pesce (Reunion Island Coffee), Kim Elena Ionescu (Specialty Coffee Association), Meredith Taylor (Counter Culture Coffee) and Colleen Anunu (Fair Trade USA) highlighted many pressing macro issues — think climate change, low prices to farmers, labor shortages, etc. — facing the coffee industry.
While the deep culinary and cultural traditions have at times arguably impeded Montreal’s progress, there has always fundamentally been a neighborly embrace of multiculturalism within the city, and nowhere is that more evident than in Montreal’s burgeoning coffee scene.
Jonathan Gabbay is a coffee enthusiast and third generation coffee trader at RGC Coffee Inc, a Montreal-based green coffee importer.